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Everybody Loves Frank—When it's Convenient

Stephens words weren’t nearly as powerful as the Republican Party’s devotion to greed.

Frank Stephens testifying before a House Appropriations Subcommittee in 2017. (Photo: Screenshot)

Frank Stephens testifying before a House Appropriations Subcommittee in 2017. (Photo: Screenshot)

Everybody gushed over Frank Stephens. Not that he didn’t deserve it.

Stephens has Down Syndrome. Last fall, he testified before a House Appropriations Subcommittee. Here’s some of what he said:

“No one knows more about living with Down Syndrome than I do. Whatever you learn today please remember this: I am a man with Down Syndrome and my life is worth living. . . . Seriously, I have a great life. I have lectured at universities, acted in an award-winning film and an Emmy-winning TV show, and spoken to thousands of young people about the value of inclusion in making America great. I have been to the White House twice and didn’t have to jump the fence either time.”

“I have been to the White House twice and didn’t have to jump the fence either time.”

Stephens delivered a dramatic rebuke of the notion that people with Down Syndrome and their families lead lives of perpetual suffering. He issued a call for more funding for Down Syndrome research. He received a standing ovation. The first to stand was U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican of Washington. Her ten-year-old son, Cole, has Down Syndrome.

“Wow!” said subcommittee chair Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma when the ovation subsided. He thanked Stephens for his “powerful” statement.

Committee member Representative Andy Harris, Republican of Maryland, said, “Mr. Stephens, I’ve been in congress seven years. That’s the most powerful testimony I’ve heard in a committee hearing.”

Stephens’s testimony went viral. Even a lot of rightwing media outlets, like Breitbart news, gave him a high five. It seems unanimous among the right wingers that Stephens is a hero. They echo the sentiments of the Squatter currently occupying the White House, in a statement last October commemorating Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

“Sadly, there remain too many people—both in the United States and throughout the world—that still see Down syndrome as an excuse to ignore or discard human life,” the Squatter said. “This sentiment is and will always be tragically misguided. We must always be vigilant in defending and promoting the unique and special gifts of all citizens in need.”

But less than two months after standing to applaud Stephens, Harris voted for that horrendous Republican windfall-for-the-rich tax bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Cole voted for it, too. McMorris-Rodgers not only voted for it, but as a key member of the House Republican leadership, she helped ram it through. And, of course, the Squatter signed it into law with alacrity.

Less than two months after standing to applaud Stephens, Harris voted for that horrendous Republican windfall-for-the-rich tax bill.

The Arc, a national nonprofit group that calls itself “the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families,” explains what’s wrong with this picture.

“By reducing revenue by at least $1.5 trillion, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increases the pressure to cut Medicaid and other programs that are critical to the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said the group’s CEO, Peter Berns. “Each vote in favor of this bill was a vote against constituents with disabilities and sets the wheels in motion to quite possibly go back in time to an era when people with disabilities had little opportunity to live a life of their choosing, in the community.”

Apparently Stephens words weren’t nearly as powerful as the Republican Party’s devotion to greed.

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Mike Ervin

Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). He can be reached at prmproj@progressive.org.

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